Huge numbers of birdwatchers and conservationists across the globe are involved in shorebird/wader conservation. It all starts with noticing that numbers are changing, then you need to work out why species are in decline, before suggesting ways to treat the problem and monitoring what happens afterwards. The whole process can be regarded as ‘International Shorebird Rescue’ and anyone who takes part in systematic counts of waders is part of the team.
This blog is based upon the plenary presentation that launched the global BOU Twitter conference on 28 and 29 November 2017. You can see the rest of the presentations here, storified on the BOU website. In this talk, entitled International Shorebird Rescue, I tried to highlight the role of shorebird scientists and volunteers in the conservation process.
A Twitter talk is a series of tweets delivered within an allocated time-slot, each of which is usually accompanied by a slide providing more detail. In this blog, I have allowed myself a few more than 140 (or even 280) characters, to try to make the links a little smoother. The first slide, showing all of the speakers, was produced by Steve Dudley, the BOU’s Chief Operations Officer.
I introduced myself and WaderTales to the BOU audience, explaining that I have been studying waders for 40+ years and that my current focus is science communications, particularly via WaderTales blogs, a full list of which is available at https://wadertales.wordpress.com/about/
“International Shorebird Rescue” celebrates the role of wader researchers and birdwatchers in conservation. I describe shorebird rescue as a four-stage process – notice there is a problem, diagnose what it is, start a treatment plan and monitor what happens.
Shorebird conservation is fuelled by the passion of researchers and policy-makers. I could have chosen many other excellent people to exemplify the way that ‘waderologists’ engage in conservation.
Shorebird conservation is not easy because many populations rely on a complex suite of sites during the course of a year. Migratory species such as this Marbled Godwit in North America face different conservation challenges in different seasons. There’s more about the threats faced by the numeniini in this WaderTales blog. Why are we losing our large waders?
Migratory movements of waders were not always well understood. Here’s an example from the 1970s, when shellfishery interests in Wales conflicted with conservation interests in Norway.
How science can inform policy
Thankfully, wader conservation is now more joined-up. In the next few slides I show how counts & scientific papers turn into conservation policy, using the Black-tailed Godwit as an example.
Black-tailed Godwits have been experiencing contrasting fortunes with declining numbers of the limosa subspecies and increases in islandica. These two WaderTales blogs provide background:
By contrasting the different fortunes of the two subspecies, Black-tailed Godwit Species Action Plans were developed at an International Wader Study Group workshop and then published as a Wader Study paper, and by EU and AEWA. There are links to all three here: Wader Study paper, EU Management Plan and AEWA Action Plan.
One of the common problems for declining wader populations at present is poor breeding success. For many species, productivity is too low for sustainable populations to persist, as discussed in this paper about demography.
Fencing – an effective treatment plan?
One of the emerging conclusions of recent research in the UK is that we need open discussion about reducing predator impacts on nesting shorebirds. One of the suggested approaches is to deploy electric fences, as in this paper by Lucy Mason (née Lucy Malpas). Lucy presented some of her more recent work later in session one of the BOU Twitter conference.
In which circumstances are fences effective and value-for-money?
The key role of estuaries
Estuaries are of vital importance to a whole range of wader species outside the breeding season. Here they face a multitude of threats, largely because ‘empty’ mudflats can be seen as being ripe for development. In the next few slides I have picked a selection of case studies in which an issue has been identified, data have been collected and conservation action has been proposed/implemented.
Waders have been losing mudflats for centuries, as exemplified on the Wash estuary, that sits between Lincolnshire and Norfolk in the east of England. The Wash was at its smallest in the 1970s. Recognition of the importance of the site has acted as a deterrent to planners, who might have claimed even more land for farming or created a large fresh-water reservoir.
A more recent physical threat is tidal power, as in the Severn Estuary, between England and Wales. Impact assessments have funded vital research in the area, as discussed in this blog.
The booming economy of Asia has put huge pressure on the Yellow Sea. Habitat removal is affecting annual survival rates and severely reducing populations of wader species that are most dependent upon the area. Fortunately, it is not too late to make a difference, as you can read here: Wader declines in the Yellow Sea
Conflict with fisheries is usually indirect but the reliance of shorebirds on the eggs of horseshoe crabs is turning the spotlight on fishing regulations in Delaware Bay. Effects of Horseshoe Crab Harvest in Delaware Bay on Red Knots; Are Harvest Restrictions Working?
Climate change threatens waders in the breeding grounds and on estuaries. Rising sea-levels and hard sea-walls are squeezing intertidal feeding areas.
Spoon-billed Sandpipers – true teamwork
As the presentation drew to a close, I wanted to finish with a positive story. Critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpipers have a desperate need for International Shorebird Rescue and a huge amount of multinational effort is going into their conservation.
Head-starting Spoon-billed Sandpipers has been really successful, producing huge gains in productivity. This may be an important conservation tool for other threatened species, as exemplified in this WaderTales blog about Black-tailed Godwits in the washes of Eastern England.
Away from the Arctic, Spoon-billed Sandpipers face many challenges. The same bird may be impacted by habitat loss in the Yellow Sea during the autumn and by hunting pressure in Myanmar later in the winter.
Shorebird scientists are working with colleagues and policy-makers in China, S Korea and N Korea to save space for Spoon-billed Sandpipers in the Yellow Sea.
Quick mention of climate change
Much of current shorebird research is set in a context of climate change. Here’s a link to a blog about the change in timing of migration of Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits.
Notice > Diagnose > Treat
In the wader world , the time between ‘paper’ and ‘policy’ can be pleasingly short – because scientists and policy makers keep communication channels open, as has been demonstrated in the case of Yellow Sea.
‘International Shorebird Rescue’ works because passionate birdwatchers, scientists & policymakers work together. They operate within a system of international agreements that have been designed to protect migratory systems and the estuaries and wetlands upon which they rely.
This blog is based upon the plenary presentation that launched the global BOU Twitter conference on 28 and 29 November 2017. You can see the rest of the presentations by checking out #BOU17TC on Twitter or by visiting the BOU website.
This was a global Twitter conference, organised by the BOU (British Ornithologists’ Union – publishers of IBIS). It involved 70 scientists and science communicators from around the world, tweeting in their own time-zones for 26 hours. The BOU plays a pivotal role in ornithological communication and this was a great example of global cooperation – it does seem appropriate that ornithologists have taken to Twitter so readily!
WaderTales blogs are written by Graham Appleton, to celebrate waders and wader research. Many of the articles are based on previously published papers, with the aim of making wader science available to a broader audience.